Plant in the desert heat: Upgrade for PEARL GTL

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In 2011, an army of 52,000 workers completed a city of steel and pipes in the Qatari desert, 80km north of Doha. The Pearl GTL (gas-to-liquids) plant is bigger than London’s Hyde Park and built with 2 million tonnes of steel. It converts natural gas into liquid fuel and produces 140,000 barrels of GTL products per day for the global markets.

KAEFER in the Middle East was involved in the initial construction phase of the project, achieving 7.3 million man-hours without a lost-time incident (LTI) by providing heat and cold insulation, passive fire protection, fire and heat retardant materials for refractory and air separation units, as well as liquid and gas processing units at Pearl.

After almost 10 years of operation, Pearl GTL has been given an upgrade by its operator Qatar Shell. Starting in 2020, the KAEFER team in Qatar has been tasked with removing insulation, blasting, applying thermal sprayed aluminium (TSA) coating, re-insulating with new material and cladding process piping and equipment on a whopping 36,000m2. As this is not an easy task, it will take the team of 65 colleagues until 2025, working continuously in day and night shifts.

Since the 2000s, TSA has been the coating of choice for many operators to control corrosion under insulation (CUI). It acts as a barrier, corroding slowly while cathodically protecting the underlying steel pipe. Its benefits are numerous:

  • resistance to mechanical damage
  • greater range of temperature resistance than organic coatings (-100ºC to 600ºC)
  • long quoted life of 25+ years
  • sacrificial protection to steels in aqueous environments
  • no drying/curing time required after application – immediate use

Thermal Spray Aluminium (TSA)

TSA spraying is a process where a powder or wire form of metal is molten by an energy source and propelled or sprayed onto the surface of another metal or structure for the purpose of corrosion control, wear resistance, traction or dimensional restoration.

There are, of course, drawbacks. Due to the often higher cost of application, the increased difficulty of application in a live plant scenario due to hot field work, and the lack of significant life extension in some severe CUI conditions, there is still some reluctance on the part of projects and operators to use TSA.

Fortunately for KAEFER, the project was re-tendered after a competitor failed to successfully complete the job. Sanjay Kumar, Managing Director at KAEFER Qatar, says: “Winning this project was a result of our strategic and competitive bidding approach. The valuable support we received from KAEFER South Africa, based on their extensive experience with TSA projects, also contributed to the bidding’s success.”

There are two common and efficient methods of applying TSA coatings: Twin Wire Arc spray and Combustion Wire Fed spray (flame spray), Twin Arc being used by our team at Pearl GTL.

One of the challenges of applying TSA in a live environment is to ensure that the surface is clean, for example the time corridor from previous blasting to TSA application is limited to four hours. Other potential hazards include fire, as the process can ignite flammable materials; noise, as TSA generates high noise levels; and inhalation, as metal dust and fumes are generated.

But it’s nothing we can’t handle. Evidence of the teams’ strong performance include:

  • Performance Recognition 2021 & 2022: The KAEFER site team was recognised by Qatar Shell for its outstanding performance.
  • Health & Safety Award 2023: The KAEFER site team was recognised by Qatar Shell for its exceptional H&S performance, highlighting KAEFER’s commitment to maintaining high safety standards.
  • Operational Excellence Recognition 2023: The KAEFER site team was recognised by Qatar Shell for its proactive approach to identifying potential spills and minor leaks on site.

“It is a challenging undertaking”, says KAEFER site manager Sushil Das. “We face many challenges on the project, heat being one of them. We’re dealing with pipeline temperatures ranging from 70°C to 200°C, radiant heat from neighbouring pipelines and high summer temperatures of up to 50°C. The strictest safety protocols are essential”, he adds.

The Pearl GTL project is a prime example of a LEAN project. Advanced scoping and pre-planning is done a year in advance, the ventilation and air conditioning plan is done six months in advance and shared with the client to ensure all necessary arrangements are in place for summer execution.

In addition, ‘Look Ahead’ schedules have been introduced: 365DLAH, 90DLAH and 3DLAH (Days Look Ahead), which allow the team to plan and prepare in advance and also increase productivity and efficiency.

Sanjay Kumar concludes: “I am extremely proud of our team’s outstanding performance on this project, and I have no doubt that we will benefit from the experience and knowledge gained for many years to come. Despite the challenges of running the online TSA job for the first time on such a scale, our team handled the unfamiliar processes safely and efficiently. Their commitment to learning has demonstrated our expertise and commitment to operational excellence. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of this team!”

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